After an expensive day in New York City my small group returned home, convincing ourselves it was worth every dollar. We dressed in black, wore make up, walked briskly and ran across streets with red lights – just like real New Yorkers. My mother participated but gave off a less-convincing aura.
My mother is visiting from California and had never been to New York City. My friend and I insisted on taking her to the city, visiting a museum, treating her to lunch, showing her Rockefeller Center and gawking at Madison Avenue. My mother is an artist and free spirit, happy to be wherever the universe places her, literally.
I gently persuaded her to leave her beloved L.L. Bean tote behind, put the Sketchers back in the closet and wipe the smeared mascara off her eyes. Since her hair is blonde, her bobby pins weren’t as noticeable as her Norwegian sweater.
Arriving in New York provides a feeling of familiarity. We’ve read the books, watched the classic movies, remembered past experiences or reminded ourselves of previous professions in the Big Apple.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is vast and impressive. As the hours progressed, I found myself wandering from exhibit to exhibit; staring at marble statues of Herculean masculinity (with no manhood) while reading informational cards. The beautifully painted faces in front of me were of desperation or endurance.
Different languages echoed in the colossal ceilings, old ladies walked slowly, arm in arm. Disoriented teachers and wide-eyed children lined up in single-file lines. Forever constant was the beat of solid boots and hard-soled shoes clomping along the wooden floors. Passersby either smelt of the cool outdoors, tart perfumes or, unfortunately, body odor.
With our brains full of newfound knowledge and revised cultural conditioning, food was our next priority. One of my favorite places to eat in New York is Cafe Boulud. On the Upper East Side, between Fifth Avenue and Madison, sits a remarkably delicious (and expensive) French restaurant.
Our maître d’ wore a suit, spoke French and graciously helped older guests with coats, scarves and walkers. It was obvious that the customers expected this level of service.
My mother gasped at the menu prices, was a bit confused with the coat check formality and questioned the purpose of offering many types of water.
The menus had no photographs; four different breads were offered, accompanied by soft butter on natural stone, and fresh flowers were tastefully placed around the table. The food and service were superior. Alas, there were no screaming toddlers throwing sippy cups, no guests wearing sweatshirts with iron-on graphics and no big-screen TVs mounted on the corner walls.
The bill arrived. We raised our eyebrows, rolled our eyes and gulped the last sip of wine. A month’s rent at my first apartment was less.
We walked and shopped Madison Avenue, visited St. James’ Church and saw Rockefeller Center. For the first time in her life, my mother gazed upon the famous Christmas tree, watched the ice skaters and took photographs of Radio City Music Hall.
On our way back to the car, we ate roasted chestnuts and popped into the Carlyle Hotel for a nightcap – another expensive but worthwhile experience. If you’re interested, Woody Allen performs at the Carlyle with a jazz band every Monday evening.
There’s no place like New York. The price tags are big and portions small. Go for the culture, the food, the personality, the history or even the architecture. Don’t be alarmed by the horse-drawn carriages and the poop bags awkwardly held by dog walkers.
On your drive back to comfortable Connecticut, reflect and appreciate the experience. Because your wallet is now on a strict diet, keep in mind that Costco offers a $1.50 hot dog and soft drink combo meal. But be careful: the menu features colored photographs and there is no coat check or maître d’. But you can count on screaming toddlers and airborne sippy cups.